NCEA Observational Studies


The National Certificate for Educational Achievement (NCEA) was introduced as the main school qualification between 2002 and 2004. Several refinements have been made over the years, including new endorsement practices introduced in 2007 for standards and 2010 for courses. 2008 saw the start of work to align NCEA standards with The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC); work that saw revised standards introduced progressively from 2011. The intention of NCEA was that it would be an assessment that provided a true picture of students’ learning and was recognised overseas for its value.

Educators and the Ministry of Education (the Ministry) had mixed feelings about whether NCEA has been implemented as intended, and had concerns about its impact on teaching and learning in secondary schools.

In 2018, the government initiated a work programme, Education Conversation- Kōrero Mātauranga, to examine the effectiveness of our education system. It was timely that a review of NCEA was included in that programme. The Ministry needed to provide recommendations for changes to NCEA for the government to consider.

To that end, in 2018, the Ministry partnered with the Education Review Office (ERO) to carry out research on the use of NCEA as an assessment and qualification tool and how its use impacted five particular aspects: curriculum design, pedagogy, assessment strategies, resourcing and student wellbeing.1

The research highlighted triumphs, innovative practices and challenges as they relate to secondary schools and tertiary education organisations (TEOs). ERO generated a report including 12 profiles2; nine of schools, representing different types of schools and three profiles of TEOs. The profiles identified common themes and differences between the types. Vignettes were used to help decision makers gain a better sense of some innovative practices and challenges faced, and how schools and TEOs addressed them. ERO also posed provocations about NCEA use.

The review of NCEA was completed and decisions made published in May 2019. An overview of the changes is available here NCEA Change Package Overview 2019.3

1 For detail of the process, including development of school types, see Appendix 1.
2 See Appendix 2.
3 More information is available from